Dirk Nowitzki didn’t make it 20 years in this league without spending an unimaginable amount of time on physical maintenance every day. Outside of jump shots and wind sprints, Nowitzki might do more than any other player in the league to get ready for his next game.
“With all the games that we play, recovery is a huge part of what we do to play again the next night or the night after that,” Nowitzki said.
Player recovery and performance has become more advanced science during the course of Nowitzki’s two-decade career. It used to be that players would trade in their jersey for street clothes after a game and then go home. Today, more and more players are spending time in cold tubs, wearing recovery boots, and receiving plenty of treatment in the form of massages or foam rolls after games.
As players have become more aware of the significant advantages new technologies can afford their body, it’s almost easy to forget about the most crucial element of recovery there is: sleep. It wasn’t long ago that Nowitkzi would sleep 10 or 11 hours every night. But now that he’s a father of three young children, the 39-year-old legend has to scrape together as many hours as he can find. Seven is the goal.
Nowitzki isn’t alone in his quest to catch more Zs. The CDC considers insufficient sleep a public health epidemic. One in four Americans doesn’t sleep enough, and more than 50 million Americans already suffer from more than 80 different sleep disorders. By the mid-21st Century, more than 100 million Americans are predicted to have trouble even falling asleep. (Sadly, I’m already one of them.) The Big German would give anything for an extra couple hours every night, but for some people, a couple hours is all they get.
“If there was a pill that you could take that would increase your own production of HGH, increase testosterone, and reduce oxidative stress, everyone would take it,” Mavs head athletic trainer Casey Smith said. “And, literally, it’s sleep. Sleep will do all of those things.”
Smith said the Mavericks performed their first sleep study in 2006, and more work has been done since. The club has changed a “significant amount” of its travel and workout times in order to allow the players extra time to sleep. Just as briefly unplugging your broken electronic device can fix a simple problem, something as simple as a good night’s sleep can do wonders for a player’s physical and mental well-being.
“The guys know basic facts about it, but they learn a lot more as time goes on,” Smith said. “The greatest players that we’ve worked with – Dirk, Tyson (Chandler) comes to mind, and J-Kidd comes to mind – their sleep was of maximum importance for them.”
The Mavericks partnered with performance bedding company Bedgear last season to hook up players and coaches with a custom pillow, engineered to reduce heat and better align their bodies while they sleep. The relationship has continued into this season, and now Bedgear has provided more pillows to go along with custom sheets and custom mattresses to each player as well. By reducing heat and minimizing moisture, the bed, sheets, and pillow create a dry, cool environment to sleep in. As a result, not only can the Mavs sleep longer, but they can sleep better.
“We all feel better after a great night’s sleep, and it’s become a science now,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. “We’ve been using sleep analytics. We’ve been trying to cycle guys the right way when we practice, depending on the time of game, et cetera. But now, with what these guys are doing at Bedgear, they’re taking it to a whole new level.”
Look at it this way. If a player goes to sleep at midnight the night before a game, he can only sleep for a maximum of eight hours until he has to wake up and get ready for morning shootaround at American Airlines Center. But what if it takes him 45 minutes to fall asleep? What if he gets so warm in the middle of the night that he’s moving continuously into uncomfortable positions, or even waking up multiple times? Suddenly that eight hours of sleep plummets down to just six or seven, but shootaround isn’t starting any later. After that, he’s only got a few hours to catch up on sleep before the game, when he’s got to be ready to compete with world-class talent.
But players aren’t the only people on Earth who need to sleep well. Eugene Alletto, the founder and CEO of Bedgear, identified the technology needed to create a sleep solution for his son, who suffered from bedding-related allergies and couldn’t get a good night’s sleep on warm vinyl. You need sleep, too, whether you’re staring down LeBron James or your boss. If you don’t believe me, allow my boss to tell you himself.
“Sleep matters,” Cuban said. “If you’re not rested, it impacts your health, it impacts your productivity, it impacts your concentration, it impacts your family. It impacts everything.”